What we can learn from Nepali orphans


32 Responses to “What we can learn from Nepali orphans”

  1. jonathanbruder says:

    This is an excellent and touching anecdote; so long as you remember that it’s an anecdote — and that the plural of anecdote is not data.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I don’t see this as a attack on the Japanese kids as much as a plea for seeing what’s really important in life. When I clicked on the donation link the first thing I saw was “A day’s outing for everyone: $50″ and I almost started crying. That’s about what I spend to take my girlfriend to lunch. Which is more important, a day trip for an orphanage or a fancy lunch?

    • thatbob says:

      When I clicked on the donation link the first thing I saw was “A day’s outing for everyone: $50″ and I almost started crying. That’s about what I spend to take my girlfriend to lunch. Which is more important, a day trip for an orphanage or a fancy lunch?

      Wait, I thought the point was NOT to give them free handouts, or else they’ll turn into those terrible, spoiled Japanese orphans.

      I would like to suggest that the Nepali kids may be poorly prepared for a life in modern Tokyo, and the Tokyo kids may be poorly prepared for a life in rural Nepal, but they may all be preparing themselves for the lives their societies have in store for them.

  3. Daedalus says:

    It would seem to me that the more “family-like” the environment, the more positive effect it would have. The kids need more than a place to stay and stuff to play with, they need role models, guides, teachers, friends — a social network that the family would normally help provide, that has been removed for these kids.

    It’s hard to think of your place as a home when everyone wants to go home at the end of the day. It’s more like a hospital or a prison, and we all know how much people LOVE to be in those…

  4. 7yler says:

    I recently visited a school in the ancient city of Varanasi, India. Called Buddha’s Smile School, this school was created to teach children of the Dalits. The Untouchables. These children are only now being given the opportunity of an education. They come from a culture of poverty. Certainly they are poor, but deeper than that they have no aspirations. They have no dreams. As much as the Buddha’s Smile School is about teaching kids to read and write, it is also about teaching kids to dream, to aspire for a life greater than they know. It was a beautiful place, doing so much with so little. And happy. Glad to be at school.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It’s a nice workshop being carried out. Though being a nepali i must say it WONDERFUL . thanks sir who might have taken out this . if possible i’m ready to give my effort on your work. THANKS.

  6. igzabier says:

    caste aware? http://www.tras.ca/
    TRAS, having recently received some new proposals, is once again looking into helping some of the remotest and poorest villages in the region.
    In India, in Phathura and Khalar villages in the Almora/ Nainital Districts of Uttarakhand State, children walk up to 10 km each way to school, and health services are nonexistent.
    Some of the Tibetans living in Indian villages in the Tuting region in the far north-eastern corner of Arunachal Pradesh are a week’s walk away from the nearest bus, which is itself a three-day journey from the nearest Tibetan settlement. In Sikkim, a Buddhist lama who recognises the value of education has started small schools for village children, the first generation to receive an education. Villagers in Humla, the poorest of Nepalís 75 districts in the far western corner of the country, are fighting to overcome caste prejudice and illiteracy.
    While we look to supporting new partners, we do not forget, of course, our ongoing work to foster quality education and health care for Tibetan children at Lhasa Yuthok Kindergarten, Dekyiling CrËche in Dehra Dun and Little Flowers CrËche in Dharamsala, for In- dian children and youth at Munsel-Ling School in the Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh, and for Nepali and
    Tibetan students at Buddha Academy Boarding School in Kathmandu.
    If you wish to make a donation this year, please consider supporting one of our current or new projects in the list inside this newsletter, or consider giving the
    oard of Directors the freedom to use the donation where it is most needed for the new pro- jects we will be undertaking in the near future.
    If you would like your donation to be made in the name of a family member or friend, we would be happy to send a Hi- malayan card to the recipient telling them you have made the donation in their name and thanking them for it. Please call Lise at the office by Wednesday, December 16, to
    allow time for her to process your dona- tion and send the card: 604-224-5133.
    Thank you so much!
    On behalf of the TRAS Board of Direc- tors, I wish you and your loved ones a wonderful holiday season, and a happy, healthy 2010. ~Jennifer Hales
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    Trans Himalayan Aid Society
    While we look to supporting new partners, we do not forget, of course, our ongoing work to foster quality education and health care for Tibetan children at Lhasa Yuthok Kindergarten, Dekyiling CrËche in Dehra Dun and Little Flowers CrËche in Dharamsala, for In- dian children and youth at Munsel-Ling School in the Spiti valley in Himachal Pradesh, and for Nepali and
    Tibetan students at Buddha Academy Boarding School in Kathmandu.

    If you wish to make a donation this year, please consider supporting one of our current or new projects

  7. phlavor says:

    My internet was down for two and a half hours yesterday and activities of my entire family ground to a halt. The only way my son could do his homework was to do all of his research via my iPhone. Then I figured out the router had become unplugged. Whew.

  8. Anonymous says:

    The entire issue is one of proper bonding and attachment. The Nepali children are getting their deepest emotional needs met by their caregivers and the Japanese children are not. In every interaction with a child, ask yourself, is what I am about to do or say going to strengthen and build connection or is it going to break it. Then act accordingly. I have seen these principles work with children around the globe without fail, and regardless of language, culture, continent, etc. Human need is human need. Children either get those needs met or they, and we all, pay the price.

  9. Anonymous says:

    i m really glad that children of Ama ghar are preparing for their future in a responsible way. I want to wish them all the best of luck and also wish they keep their spirits up as this day.. they really resemble the fact how we have happy smiles though less money in our pockets.. this is nepal.. i also hope there would be no further politics to diminish the attempt to regain peace of our country … love xxx

    Nepalese gal
    Preeti Joshi

  10. Anonymous says:

    Reminds me of Richard Mortenson’s 3 Cups of Tea Book. It is a must read about an American Hiker that took in a village in Pakistan as family. He promised to build that one village a school for the children and he’s built 50!

    He does it by personally herding the donated $$$ to Pakistan, and further herding it past the drug lords straight to the vendors supplying the projects.

    It is truly a great book, and cause. Buying a copy will donate towards the schools, and instill a feeling of wonder how this man can sacrifice so much for the children in the area.

  11. Oceanesque says:

    It sounds as though the Japanese orphans were more likely to have experienced physical, emotional, verbal abuse before coming to the orphanage.

    Literature by respected psychologists documents that growing up in a traumatic, unpredictable environment, with violence, possible neglect and/or fear of abandonment leads to children (and adults) who tend to see things as a threat, and who are less able to self-soothe.

    Seeing things as a threat and being less able to self-soothe is not conducive to getting on with others.

    (Especially to getting on with other traumatised orphans. I would argue that the hardest person for a traumatised person to get on with is another traumatised person.)

    It’s not as simple as poverty = getting on with others and affluence = selfish.

    The Romanian orphans (many of whom had living parents) were raised in an environment of extreme poverty, physical and emotional neglect, and were so badly traumatised by it that they had difficulty coping and adapting when adopted by loving families who wanted to meed their physical and emotional needs.

  12. jacques45 says:

    A bit OT, but what’s the sign of? Wouldn’t expect to see a Jewish star in Nepal…

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      The six-pointed star, like the swastika, is also a Hindu symbol. Pretty much any conceivable combination of lines is a Hindu symbol. They’ve been cooking them up for about 40,000 years.

  13. Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of a video I just saw recently of stand up comedian Louis CK on the old Conan O’Brien show. LCK says “Everything is amazing, and no one is happy.” (clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UN0MpBQG3-E&feature=player_embedded)

    People that have things handed to them often don’t see the value of it.

  14. Anonymous says:

    It’s interesting, after watching all of those child sponsorship commercials on T.V., the situation of the Nepal orphanage actually sounds really good. They don’t wander barefoot on endless streets made of broken glass (does that really exist?) and they have running water and often have light at night. They apparently have potatos and get to visit a temple. When I was a kid I’d often choose to play with old tires and big empty cardboard boxes instead of my electronic video games and modern sports equipment.

    Way to go kids in Nepal! You’re living the dream of kids in Timbuktu apparently.

  15. jacques45 says:

    @Antinous: Yes, but there appears to be hebrew writing in the bottom right of the sign (but too small for me to read)

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      I didn’t notice that. It could say yod-something-vav, or it might just be some small words in Devanagari with some really tiny words in Devanagari under them.

    • Anonymous says:

      It’s not Hebrew. It is the adress of the school (that’s a sign board of a school, the star is a faded school logo. Most government schools in Nepal has a similar logo). The text is in Devnagari(Nepali). I couldn’t make the first two words below the star, the last word is “Kathmandu” and the words below it is the established date.

      and, Thank you Lisa.

  16. TobyFee says:

    This is a truly interesting observation, and counter-intuitive. I would wonder, though, about selection bias. No-one in the Tokyo case is putting their child in an orphanage because they can’t afford to feed them (probably). Drugs, disability, and mental illness may have played a much bigger part in the lives of the young Japanese children than those in Nepal who (it is implied) came from relatively okay people who just couldn’t afford to keep children.

    I’m drawing this, rather extended, assumption from your mention that the children at the Ama foundation often have one or both living children.

  17. Anonymous says:

    I have nothing useful to add to any discussion, but I want to thank Lisa for bringing this up.

  18. Anonymous says:

    It’s very hard to teach someone empathy after a certain point in time. A bad parent given control of a child in their formative years can do immense damage to the child’s personality formation. I imagine many of these kids in Tokyo have been emotionally and physically abused. I don’t know but from talks with adopted friends–assume that it’s much harder to know that your parents abandoned you than that they simply aren’t alive anymore. Being abandoned fuels huge resentment. There are a number of other factors that probably explain why the kids in the Japanese orphanage don’t seem happy. A lack of a sense of family is certainly huge. And Japan is a culture that teaches children and everyone–you are what you have. And if you have less, therefore, you feel like less of a person.
    Years ago, a study of the yakuza noted that many of them came from abused backgrounds. This is one of the appeals of the organization–they offer a family to people who have never really had one. (Of course, I’m getting off subject here.)
    However, you probably should spend more than a day at the Japanese orphanage to get a sense of how things are. But one thing I think is worth noting–electronic games and toys allow people to entertain themselves in isolation. Low tech play among children is probably the best way for them to learn to interact with each other and create real bonds. Maybe the orphanage should ban video games and put in a playground.

  19. megbon says:

    Oy. I find this characterization of the Nepali orphans as “good” kids so distasteful since it obviously presumes that the Japanese orphans are “bad” kids. And you just gloss over the fact that the Japanese orphans were mostly there because of domestic violence. Doesn’t it seem like exposure to domestic violence might have more to do with their inclination to fight than a Nintendo DS?

    Oh, the more I go up and read this, the more just distasteful it becomes. Your attitude towards these Japanese orphans is just… creepy. I mean, you’ve got a 13 year old kid who’s been removed from his home presumably because either he was being beat up or his mother was being beat up or something and you call him “chubby” talk about how he “irritates” the director and then seem so disgusted that he wants bigger allowance.

  20. megbon says:

    I’m feeling guilty that I described your attitude as “creepy.” That’s not cool. But my daughter came from an orphanage that’s a lot more like the Nepali one you described than the Japanese one. And the kids there were sweet and well-behaved. But no matter how sweet and well-behaved they were, I cannot bear to think of my daughter there. There’s nothing good about growing up in an orphanage.

  21. pinehead says:

    What Lisa is talking about is just another example of a suspicion I hold about human nature; that our closeness and our caring for each other is borne out of suffering, or the knowledge of potential suffering.

    Those kids in Nepal live under the kind of circumstances where they know that all they really have is each other and the aunties. It doesn’t take a lot of brain power to look around at your world and realize who your support network is. So, naturally, they come to appreciate what that network of people does to help them survive, and they in turn develop feelings of attachment, appreciation and eventually love for those people and try to return their help as much as possible. It’s a very basic social process for animals like us.

    The kids in Tokyo, meanwhile, are in a different boat entirely. Let’s set aside their familial circumstances and look at it from a more basic standpoint. On an instinctual level, those kids have never, ever seen the kind of life that a Nepali orphan would face on their own. Those kids have never had to worry about being totally stranded and having to fend for themselves. Every building has indoor plumbing, hot water, an HVAC system to keep it comfortable, plentiful food and high-priced trinkets to play with.

    But because that lifestyle is all they know, it’s easy to take it for granted; that is, to accept this as the baseline of life. Every primal need is fulfilled, and their social experiences with adults (and now each other) proves that their lives are essentially meaningless. No one loves them; they simply exist in a comfortable, faceless, bureaucratic welfare machine. So, after a time, the kids adapt most of their social needs into needs for the gadgetry and other such junk. It fills the void, so to speak, and what’s left behind is something typically called a sociopath. They are unable to connect to each other or anyone else, and love is completely out of the question.

    Love requires needing and wanting. It requires knowledge of certain death or extreme difficulty in the absence of the object of love. That is why the big-city kids love their Nintendo, internet and whatever other objects. They know that humans provide no such help. The Nepali kids, meanwhile, are just the opposite.

    Incidentally, this is why I also believe love does not really exist in most industrialized nations. It’s unnecessary in the face of the technological developments. We don’t feel like we need each other anymore. But I digress, and excuse the preachiness of this comment. It is, after all, just an opinion.

    • tweedledee says:

      I have come to suspect something similar. I hate to say it, because it sounds like an endorsement of some kind of trite Luddist back-to-the-land sentiment, but it makes sense to me.

  22. 7andrew says:

    Dear Lisa

    Thank you so much for your excellent article.

    Your account of the Nepalese children’s home reminds me a little bit of a rural school I visited in Natal, South Africa many years ago and the politness and genuine happiness of the children there. Your description of the Japanese orphanage, on the other hand, reminds me more of the technical school where I am retraining. Many of the kids there have the social disorders … the aspberger’s, ADHD the bravado and the posturing.

    I’m not too sure exactly where we lost the way or what the big picture answers are, other than to find time for family and community, but you certainly made me think about it.

  23. demidan says:

    Ok, erased my first long narrative, and boiled down into the stock, Nature V Nurture.

    The two groups are of course very different as they are raised very different. One group is raised as a family and a poor one at that, the other group is being raised as individuals of the bourgeoisie. Each has their own problems and outlooks and each is dealing with said problems in a different manner. While we might look at the group in Nepal as superior to the group in Tokyo, they might see it otherwise.

    There is a whole lot of Nature AND Nurture out there and a very small amount of absolutes.

    • Ito Kagehisa says:

      Demidan, when raising children, you must use your adult judgment and experience to shape their education in response to their abilities and personality. Your nurture should complement their nature, if those terms must be used, so that you as a parent optimize each child’s chance of living a fulfilled, happy, useful life. In specific cases this might indeed be nurture versus nature, because some kids may be genetically predisposed to be greedy, self-hating, or otherwise imperfectly fitted to living in a healthy human environment. But in many cases nurture fosters and enhances natural inclinations; although one of my children is extremely lazy (as am I, by nature) and has to be taught industry, another is extremely active, and has to be taught to channel excess creative energy in beneficial ways.

      The psychologist Donald Hebb observed that nature and nurture contribute to personality like length and width contribute to the area of a rectangle; knowing only the result, you cannot say which of the factors dominates any particular human response to a situation, it’s all highly individual. Some people are naturally friendly and co-operate, others had to be taught to be that way.

      The mechanisms of mammalian reproduction ensure that nearly all children are different. This is why there is no foolproof recipe for raising children and never will be. The best thing for them is love, obviously; you can see this demonstrated in studies over and over again (and I personally suspect that’s where the Nepali orphanage has an edge over the Japanese one) and it’s simply because you will try harder to do your best for those you love. You only say “that kid is no good, to hell with that kid, that kid can’t be taught” when you don’t love ‘em.

      I guess the odds that I would comment here approach unity. Unfortunately my work will probably not allow a real conversation; as usual I am snatching a few minutes of BB here and there with the excuse of routine checking of various internet links. Sorry about the length!

  24. Anonymous says:

    Hi Lisa,

    Great article. I’m curious about one thing. I tried to do a bit of research once relating to orphanages in Kanto and got a lot of resistance from the staff when I tried to schedule an interview-even though it was more about the history of the institution than the conditions there. Its reputation with other people doing social work in the community was fine. Do you have any advice on how to make friends with orphanages?

  25. dannotdan says:

    All I can say is that the children’s home in Osaka, Japan where our daughter once lived was nothing like what you describe in Tokyo. The adults were extremely dedicated and the school was orderly. The children got along with each other well, picked up after themselves, and looked after each other.

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